One book opens another, the alchemists said, James Hillman repeated and here, in this site of correspondences and transmissions, one text opens another. The feeling of fullness and emptiness in Tristan Foster’s ‘The Dreamer’ embodies circularities that call for openings: the perimeter of confinement must be broken although its boundaries remain, like a spell perceived at infra-thin level so reading continues, between circles and breakthroughs, return and flight. Vivian Darroch-Lozowski’s ‘The Unsaid’ concludes with a significant gesture of nonconclusion, as an intense thread of speculation shifts into an organic, porous growth which gives reading the semblance of a lichen formation: unassuming, slow spreading, attached. Comfort in enclosure is pierced by forebodings in the form of snakes or a certain doe, is broken on encountering something more and something else than words. At times the magic garden of reading morphs into the City of Brass, and the only way out is to think and write differently: not smashing walls but outgrowing them, like a lichen, like a spell. ‘The City of Brass’, petrifying story tucked away in the heart of the Arabian Nights, is a stark locked groove of vanitas. Some time ago, the story of the City of Brass appeared in a text by a writer who called herself Cristina Campo—who had heard it in Jorge Luis Borges—and was retold many years later in La tavoletta dei destini (The Tablet of Destinies), one of the latest books by Roberto Calasso where the story of the City of Brass, stark locked groove of vanitas, is hinted at, faintly echoing Cristina—whom Calasso published—in the reported words of Utnapishtim, a character in the epic of Gilgamesh destined to remain alive through storytelling, final testimony that to write and to publish is to be haunted by the words of others, and that openings must occur to escape the locked grooves of vanitas that admonish against deathly self-confinement: openings through returning, repeating, re-reading. Words merge, another unsaid unravels, words outside of the confines of flawlessness, words become spell, become lichen. Recursive, propagating, the same and not quite so, they say what was always known, but could only be heard through the words of others. They allow to understand the solemn statement that in order to write you must be already writing, as the condition named already writing is manifested in citing and siting, reading, finding grounds through words that form and grow gradually but persistent, like a spell, like a lichen. Writing is not in a void, not across a mirror. The glass is shattered, entangled in broken shards we may sometimes bleed. Writing is always with someone, even when far away or long gone, dreaming or unsaid. It might be found in a sense of election, in a calling, in a dissonant frequency that demands attention, in a prompt to unhinge. Sometimes in a magic garden, sometimes in the City of Brass. The dead queen in the City of Brass has quicksilver in the place of her eyes. She admonishes, her words inscribed on a golden tablet are a locked groove of vanitas, she strikes. A nonhuman flutter of eternal appears through mercurial shivers in a moment. There is vertigo in feeling still fugitive. One text opens another, this begins where it might have stopped: in one of the few lines one would dare to read to a friend, as Borges once wrote at the end of an essay where he advocated soul, idiosyncrasy, destiny as marks that go beyond stylistic perfection and make a text urgent, alive. Vivian once wrote she wanted to leap into the breaking sea, so we break into leaping seas. Tristan leaps in and out of his readings, spirit-training in a spell then broken, spell, broken. Vivian’s calm and determined reasoning vaporises into foam-born whispers. Tristan turns tranquillity inside out. For both, tranquillity is the inner lining of dizzying variety. Impurity rather than perfection holds the disparate parts of this chimera. The inner hum of writing with others, as it becomes written, exceeds words. These conversations are the secret of our persistence. They are barely there, like a cobweb, but weighed with the liquid load of morning dew. The force of writing is not solely in the written but in its anticipation, the restless yearning for it, its aftertaste, its slow fade-out leading always inevitably in. The coiling of a text and its thorns are not instruments of binding or torture but organs of transmission. Yet they do not promise delicate anaesthesias: they pierce reawakenings as they circle and want to flee, make words desiring worlds. The characters in Tiepolo’s Scherzi look at an invisible substance produced by a burning of the visible. They may be looking at looking, but they also present what goes on in reading: a spell, a burning. The invisible substance held in ‘The Unsaid’ and re-awoken in ‘The Dreamer’ binds in a spell and ignites. In these encounters, in these singular discoveries that inform the way we carry ourselves in the world, where coincidence is correspondence, it is not a question of choosing between magic gardens or cities of brass: we are in both, it would be impossible to live otherwise. The dead queen and her quicksilver eyes will continue to admonish, magi will continue to set things on fire, foam-born whispers will continue to be heard, never entirely disclosed or grasped. Tristan says he is Calasso’s ideal reader, and such a statement does not want to be verified: it is contagious, prompts restless response, like those voices heard in books that keep us awake at night. Vivian’s revelations of being, a glimpse in the unsaid into unsteady secrets, cannot and will never be exhaustive. We will be exhausted by yearning, seeking, losing and half-hearing those nine or ten words that get along with our soul, again echoing Borges, all the books written in order to write, perhaps, one page, those words one would dare to read to a friend. Those words that tacitly and persistently, like a lichen, like a spell, say to a friend, ‘I read you’.
Daniela Cascella is the editor of ‘A Year of Carte Blanche and Other Chimeras’, a new series at MAP. Her books articulate tensions and points of contact between the literary and the sonic: Singed. Muted Voice-Transmissions, After The Fire (Equus Press, 2017), F.M.R.L. Footnotes, Mirages, Refrains and Leftovers of Writing Sound (Zer0 Books, 2015), En Abîme: Listening, Reading, Writing. An Archival Fiction (Zer0 Books, 2012), Nothing As We Need It (Punctum Books / Risking Education, forthcoming 2022), Chimeras: A Deranged Essay. An Imaginary Conversation. A Transcelation (Sublunary Editions, forthcoming 2022).
Voices Heard in Reading
James Hillman, Alchemical Psychology, Putnam, CT: Spring Publications, 2014
Tristan Foster, ‘The Dreamer I’ and ‘The Dreamer II’, MAP, 17 November 2021
Vivian Darroch-Lozowski, ‘The Unsaid’, MAP, 18 November 2021
‘The City of Brass’, in The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights, trans. by Malcolm C. Lyons, Vol. 2, London: Penguin, 2010
Cristina Campo, ‘Notti: 1. La storia della Città di Rame’, in Gli imperdonabili, Milano: Adelphi, 1987 (1963 / 1971)
Jorge Luis Borges, ‘The Immortal’, in The Aleph, trans. by Andrew Hurley, London: Penguin, 2000 (1947 / 1949)
Roberto Calasso, La tavoletta dei destini, Milano: Adelphi, 2020
Maurice Blanchot, ‘The Gaze of Orpheus’, in The Gaze of Orpheus and Other Literary Essays, trans. by Lydia Davis, New York, NY: Station Hill, 1981 (1955)
Borges, ‘A Profession of Literary Faith’, trans. by Suzanne Jill Levine, in Jorge Luis Borges: Selected Non-Fictions, ed. by Eliot Weinberger, trans. by Esther Allen, S.J. Levine, E. Weinberger, London: Penguin, 1999 (1926)
Darroch-Lozowski, Voice of Hearing, Toronto: Squint Press, 2020 (1984)
Calasso, Il rosa Tiepolo, Milano: Adelphi, 2006